Outdoor Education

Lessons from the Road

By Tom Holland April 30, 2021

This spring, Catherine and I had an idea we knew was anything but original.  We loaded up our 4 kids in the Suburban with our camper in tow and took to the road for an adventure that would make Clark Griswold proud.  Over a period of two weeks we would cover approximately 1000 miles as we trekked, camped and recreated in the great outdoors.  We would visit our Gap Semester students in the field and camp in several of our America’s most beloved western national parks.  The adventure would be the perfect way to break out of the pandemic slump that had defined our year.

We knew we would not be alone on this adventure.  In our part of the world, there is a yearly exodus to warmer climates once winter gives way to the signs of spring—pandemic or no pandemic.  Couple the normal spring breakers with an understanding that outdoor activity provides an excellent elixir for Covid relief and you have the perfect storm for the outdoor boom we are all witnessing.

This reality became abundantly clear when we woke at 5:00am to witness the sunrise in one our nations iconic parks.  Smartly, we had camped just outside the park the night before, knowing the crowds would grow rapidly later in the day.  As it turned out, we were not the only “smart’ ones.  Our crew was joined by many others who had done the same thing.  Nonetheless, we had a wonderful moment in nature viewing a magnificent sunrise.  We were able to add a quiet hike which only enhanced our experience.

As we began to make our trek back we witnessed the growing crowds that have become commonplace at all of our nation’s parks.  Parking lots were full.  Trash cans were overflowing.  Visitors were occasionally raucous and rowdy while enjoying their experience.  As we drove out, past the entry gates, we witnessed a new reality: the “late sleepers” were in a line 100 cars deep at 8:30am waiting to enter.  My 13 year old daughter was shocked at the line, noting it was worse than any traffic jam she had ever seen.

To Catherine and me, this was actually not so shocking.  We had seen similar lines in Jackson Hole last summer.  We watched as many areas we love in and around the Grand Teton National Park being “loved to death” by new admirers of intermountain west.

In the days following our “sunrise hike”, true to our beliefs at WA, we made an effort to explore some of the lesser known national monuments—locations not yet frequented by as many visitors.  We explored the slickrock and examined amazing geological features.  We contemplated the ancient cliff dwellings that protected families centuries before the Holland family ever showed up.  We all came away awe inspired!

Without a doubt, as business owners in the outdoor industry, we stand to benefit from this expanding appreciation of the outdoors.  Working in the student world this past year has been challenging.  But, as people have realized the value of the outdoors amidst the pandemic, demand for programs like ours has skyrocketed.  We are eager to get more students on the trail again.

With this increased demand comes increased responsibility.  As we go down this road of increased demand we owe it to Mother Nature to carefully consider the cost this demand leaves behind.  For many of our students, their experience with us is their first outdoor camping experience.  Their trip will forever be the foundation for their life enjoying all future outdoor trips.  We know their experience must include an understanding of practicing “Leave No Trace”, respecting the wonders of nature and respecting others who seek to enjoy the same delight of the outdoors.  We tell our students these values are critical to preserving the magic of nature for years to come.

Our actions as a company—and as individuals—will be to respectfully and thoughtfully serve our clients while making sure we protect wild spaces for others to enjoy and contemplate long after we are gone.